Managing Heat While Wearing an Oven

Fighting in armor is HOT. REALLY hot. We commonly estimate that it is about 30 degrees F hotter inside our armor than it is outside. We sweat a LOT. We tire out FAST.

Fighters and fans seem to wonder, “How do you deal with the heat?”

Illustration by Bohurt Potato

I can only speak for myself, but here it goes….

First, a WARNING:

I am not a medical expert. Consult your physician before trying any of this. This article only reflects MY personal experience and the tips are based on what has worked for me. If you feel light headed or dizzy at ANY time, STOP. Find shade or air conditioning. Take off the armor. Rest. Hydrate. If that doesn’t help get immediate medical attention. This is NOT something to mess around with. Use a buddy system. NEVER argue when you are told you’re done for the day.

The important parts you need to keep cool are your brain and your core. Your head is most important and your core is second. This is usually best done where blood vessels are closer to the surface – head, neck, armpits, inside of elbows and knees, groin, and feet. Since most of these areas are going to be covered in armor, you’ll need to focus on those that are not. In a worst case situation, get out of armor and into air conditioning.

Hydration

I cannot stress enough the importance of proper hydration in everyday life. When the heat increases and the sweat flows, hydration becomes exponentially more important. This is why one of my very first TikTok videos is me telling you to drink water. Water helps keep your body working. Yes, you CAN actually drink too much but you are more likely not drinking enough. Drink more water.

How much more? Well, that all depends on you and the heat and what you’re doing in the 48 hours or so before your fight. That’s right: 48 hours. I begin drinking extra water a full two days in advance. I’m on a regular diet, and I’ve learned not to take a cheat day before a fight. Eat healthy, everyone!

As for how much, I mention elsewhere in another post that most adult humans should be drinking around 1/2 gallon per day. That’s for a normal day. I figure about twice that leading up to a fight.

BUT……. Remember your electrolytes. You will need to increase your salt intake accordingly. Not too much of course, but a little. While I normally practice intermittent fasting, on a fight day, I am more likely to begin with a couple slices of nice, salty bacon with a couple eggs. Just before a fight, I’ll sometimes eat a light snack that has electrolytes like a pickel or some preserved meats or *gasp* a small bag of my beloved Cool Ranch Doritos. At renaissance faires I’ve been known to make some sekanjabin to keep up with my electrolyte balance.

Also DO NOT drink all your water at once. Ideally, you should be sipping on your water all day from waking to bed. Yes, you will have to pee a lot. That’s a good thing. Make sure you go just before you armor up.

Keep sipping while in your armor. You will be sweating out salt and water and you should be replacing them. Watered down Gatorade is often used. You want between a 2-1 and a 3-1 water to Gatorade ratio.

Acclimation

Practice makes perfect. It is amazing what the human body can do when introduced slowly. In this case, the simple answer is the more you do it the less bad it gets. ….to a point. If you jump in and try to fight all day your firs time in armor when it is 95F and 80% humidity, you’ll find yourself on the fast track to serious heat injury. Not good.

I begin by doing my regular workout without air conditioning. I do some light exercises outdoors in warm weather. Learn to love sweating. It helps cool you, even when your wearing armor. Try living without AC if you can, or at least don’t turn it on in your car.

The idea is repeated, easy, low stress exposure to heat. It gets your body used to it a little more.

When you feel comfortable trying it, wear your armor and go for a walk. Helmet, too, if you can. That traps a lot of heat inside, since your head is often a heat sink for the rest of your body. Do that for a while and then pick up the pace. Try jogging a little. Maybe do a light workout. Push VERY carefully.

“Swamp” Cooling

A few years back a viral post went around the Internet about a homemade swamp cooler“. It kept the contents a little cooler than the ambient air, through a process called evaporative cooling. The good news is your armor and padding work in a similar manner. The bad news is twofold: first, it only works on low humidity days and second it doesn’t kick in till you’ve been sweating a while.

Here’s how it works: You put on your undergarments. (Bonus: Linen is AWESOME as the base layer. I like it even better than the modern Spandex derivatives for my shirt. I like my spandex leggings though not for the cooling, but because they slide nicely under my padded leg armor. YMMV.) You add a layer of padded protection, usually cotton or linen. Your outer layer is the armor proper. Now, the metal has gaps. Even Henry VIII’s famous all-encompassing armor isn’t airtight. As you sweat, your undergarments suck that liquid away from your skin and impart it onto your padding. Eventually, this wicks outward and begins to evaporate. The evaporation begins to cool the now damp padding, and that cool feeling finally reaches your body.

This is why, after being in armor at least 45 minutes or so, any cool breeze feels magnificent.

Of course, if the humidity is high it won’t do much.

Cool Cloths

This is probably the easiest method, but it is short term. Essentially I keep damp cool cloths around to place on my head and neck. In more extreme cases, wrists, armpits, and crotch.

During an especially hot tournament (Flowers of Chivalry, a womens’ warlord tournament at The Knights Hall in June, 2019) we had a serious heat problem. No one went to the hospital. The support crew used coolers with ice water in them and lots of cloths. As soon as any fighter left the field, they had cool cloths on their head and neck. Some fighters wanted more and a few wanted less. Ice packs were also used.

Dousing with Water

Ok, this is contested, but for me it is wonderful. Not everyone responds well to cold water being dumped on their head. It triggers an instant autonomic nervous response that shocks the whole body. Personally, I find the shock beneficial. Some people prefer water poured on various body parts – as with the cool cloths, head, neck, back, chest, crotch. All of these will help cool the fighter. Always ask permission first, but you can offer it. Sometimes when you hand a fighter a bottle of water, they’ll pour it where they want. That’s good, too.

Cooling Mist Spray

A few years ago, these became popular. They are a spray bottle you pressurize with a hand pump and as you spray, the change in pressure lowers the water temperature, so they feel cooler than a swamp cooler can achieve. The only problem is while these feel great, they are fast acting and only effect the surface of the skin. In other words, they feel great but do little. I have one. I don’t use it for fighting. At Flowers of Chivalry, we tried using a garden sprayer for this purpose. It worked a little better, because it put out a larger volume of water. (Yay, physics!)

Ice Packs

This should be obvious. Ice packs help. They aren’t easy to keep cool and the chemical ones are single use. But…. They work. A variation I rather like, is to take a damp cloth and stick it in the freezer. This acts as an ice pack followed by a cool cloth. Win/win!

Evaporative Cooling Vests

One hot afternoon, I watched as a couple of SCA fighters in their 60’s fought in 110F heat for a demo. I was sweltering in my rapier armor. I asked one of them how he did it. He opened his torso armor and pointed out the military cooling vest he wore. It was a quilted light vest that was stuffed with these granules that absorbed many times their mass in water. You soak the vest in water over night and store it in a cooler. It provides a few hours of cooling. Apparently these were developed for use by US troops in the middle east, but are also common among road crews. You can easily make your own. The granules are available online and in you r lawn and garden department marketed as “Magic Crystals” and are ostensibly meant for the stems of cut flowers. I know many people who sew cloth tubes and put these crystals inside. Soak them in cool water at the bottom of your cooler and put them around your neck or wherever.

Phase Change Cooling Vests

A lot like the evaporation kind, but these use reusable freezer gel packs. They cool as they go from solid to gel. When they are all soft and warm, you replace them with more from your freezer.

Liquid Cooling

Now we’re talking pro level. NASCAR drivers, tropical welders, and high end cosplay and fur suit actors are the usual consumers of these. They are a shirt (and sometimes hood) with flexible pipes sewn in. They plug into a reservoir and pump to cool efficiently and quickly. The drawback for fighters is you need the reservoir, pump, and a power source. Most use coolers with gel packs or ice for the reservoir. While not practical to fight in, I’ve considered getting one to experiment with for between fights. Could be messy. Definitely above my budget at the moment.

Know Your Limits

With all that said, we all have our limits. We need to recognize when we are on the edge of heat injury and STOP right there, and cool off. Some organizations have rules they use to stop activities when the heat is too much, but it is always a personal thing. YOU are ultimately responsible for knowing your limits. We all push our boundaries in this sport. Just know that you do more damage if you push too far. If you are working support, you may have to make the call for a fighter who has obviously exceeded their limit. I personally try to talk to each fighter between rounds and ascertain their level of coherence. If they are obviously out of it, time to armor down and cool off. It is never an easy call. If the fighter nods off or otherwise fades in and out of consciousness, even once, you NEED to get them cooled off ASAP. This is a serious medical condition. If it is you, it is better to retire for the day with dignity and fight again next time than to risk your health and potentially never be able to fight again.

Don’t take MY Word for it….

I am minimally trained in emergency first aid. I am not a medical professional. This article should not be taken as medical advice. I do have one piece of advice I WILL give to you: GET TRAINED. Seriously. All fighters and support, should, in my opinion, be trained in at least basic first aid and CPR. What we do is dangerous. We are serious about safety because our lives are literally at stake here. And we do this for fun. So have fun and be safe in doing it.